Girls don’t need one role model, they need a tribe


It seems like every week there’s a new study out telling us how difficult it is to be a teenage girl today.

Just in the past year, we’ve heard how teenage girls in the UK are among the most miserable in the world, that their mental wellbeing is worsening and that some girls as young as seven are feeling the pressure to look ‘perfect’.

Useful as these reports are for highlighting the issues at hand, I‘m fed up with continuous research. I want less talk and more action. How long can we keeping reiterating how tough it is for our girls without even recognising some of the reasons for their despair, let alone investing in the solution? I don’t need any more surveys, polls or empirical studies. I want to do something about this, right now.

I want investment in our mental health services so girls who self-harm or suffer with anxiety attacks are not waiting months for an appointment with a counsellor; I want more focus on life skills and resilience in schools as opposed to the obsession with academic prowess; I want compulsory sex education that is relevant and talks about porn and intimacy and self-respect and I want zero tolerance on sexual harassment and sexist behaviour in schools, including stereotyping and ‘banter’.

Am I asking too much? Well, I’m more than happy to be seen as demanding and difficult on this one and if you have a daughter, sister, niece or any role in a young girl’s life I suggest you get on board.

Because it’s not just the government that needs to take responsibility for turning some of this research around. It’s me, and it’s you. In his recent discussion-provoking book, 10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow Up Strong and Free, Steven Biddulph says our daughters need female role models who aren’t their mums, and I couldn’t agree more.

It takes a village to raise a girl these days; her female community matters.

Cool aunts, big sisters, mum’s best friends, godmothers, grannies and others all have a part to play in teaching her the basics of self-respect, feminism and friendship. A strong sisterhood can help her harness her uniqueness and keep her safe, happy and free.

If you can’t see it, you can’t become it and we need more powerful women to guide our girls on the path to success. I’ve seen timid and uninspired girls light up with ambition after meeting a smart and sassy woman who has shown them that they have the ability to be whatever they want to be.

There are tonnes of these awesome women out there and I’m calling on them to step up and be there for a girl they know today. Whether it’s by signing up to be a Big Sister mentor with Girls Out Loud, dedicating an hour a week to one-on-one time with a female relative or encouraging your employer to offer work experience to teens, we all need to do our bit.

Never has it been more important for our girls to have gumption and to find their voice.

I will not be sacrificing mine until we have helped girls navigate their teen years so they emerge happy, strong and empowered with a sense of self and a shed load of resilience – ready and equipped to be role models to the next generation.

Jane Kenyon, Founder and CEO of Girls Out Loud

(first appeared on We Are The City)